LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska's back-to-back, double-digit wins over opponents from BCS conferences have piqued the interest of what has been a generally apathetic fan base when it comes to men's basketball.
A win at Wake Forest last week and one at home over Southern California on Monday improved the Cornhuskers to 6-1, their best start since 2008-09. That's all well and good, first-year coach Tim Miles said, but the Huskers will get a better read on themselves when they host 16th-ranked Creighton (7-1) on Thursday.
Nebraska has lost 10 of the last 14 meetings with its in-state rival, but won three straight against the Bluejays in Lincoln.
"I don't think we'll raise any eyebrows unless we win on Thursday," Miles said.
Miles' mission is to create some momentum for the program as it prepares to move into a new 16,000-seat downtown arena next season.
Hard as it is to admit for the coach of the state's flagship university, Creighton, with its large fan following in eastern Nebraska, is a program he's chasing.
"They have a marquee program right now and we want to get to that level and we're not there," Miles said. "Can we do it? Absolutely we can do it — and the sooner the better."
Most years at Nebraska, basketball has been something Big Red followers watch passively in the winter when they're not talking about football recruiting.
Miles, who signed a seven-year contract paying $1.4 million, knows he has a lot of work to do before there is sustained interest. He's not off to a bad start.
The Huskers already are halfway to achieving the win total of the team that finished 12-18 and tied for 11th in the Big Ten.
Nebraska has announced attendance at more than 9,000 for all but one of its five home games, including a season-high 10,045 against USC. And that's even though only two of the five teams Nebraska beat at home, Valparaiso and Tulane, have winning records.
Seniors Dylan Talley (15.6 ppg) and Brandon Ubel (14 ppg), and junior Ray Gallegos (14 ppg) have been the main attractions in Miles' motion offense. Defensively, the Huskers are holding opponents to 42 percent shooting.
Still, the Huskers are picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten. Even though the early season wins are good for confidence, they don't mean much if no headway is made in the conference.
"Hopefully the fans like what they see," Miles said. "We're just trying to be the best we can be. We know what everybody expected, and that hasn't changed. We're not picked any higher in the Big Ten. We just have to keep going out and prove ourselves, that we're not that team. We're ourselves. We're the Huskers of 2012-13 and we have to figure out how to win every game."
Asked if the Huskers have exceeded expectations, Talley said: "Yeah, from the things I was reading before the season, I would say we have. We believe in ourselves. We got up at 6 in the morning every morning over the summer and worked hard for positive results. We play hard and see what happens."
The only misstep so far has been a 74-60 loss to Kent State in which Talley and Ubel combined for 44 points and the Huskers shot 39 percent. Kent State shot 57 percent.
The Huskers bounced back to win at Wake Forest 79-63 — their most lopsided road win since 2003 — and beat USC 63-51.
"With the exception of Kent State, there has been a growth from game to game in the way we're playing, the way we're playing together," Ubel said. "I think you'll see another step forward come Thursday and it'll be fun. Ranked opponent comes into your place, you've got an opportunity to beat them, that's big-time for us. Hopefully, we can pull it together and get the win."
After Creighton, Nebraska probably won't face another Top 25 team until visiting Ohio State for the Big Ten opener Jan. 2.
Even if the Huskers stay on a roll through the nonconference schedule, few would expect a team with nine active scholarship players to hold up night in and night out in the conference.
"People will say what they want to say," Talley said. "We're not worried about what people outside the team are saying. We're not worried about it now whether it's good or bad because things could go south just as fast. We just have to keep on believing in ourselves and work hard and try to get better."